Tuesday, December 27, 2005

God Rest Ye

The Twelve Lows of Christmas (in no particular order)

1) Not getting the happy, free-range, nourished-on-organic-you-name-it turkey we'd ordered from the co-op, due to a mix-up that was pretty much entirely my fault.
2) Misplacing all my modifiers (see above).
3) Discovering the "fresh" Hyvee turkey we purchased at the last minute was actually just defrosted: the glaze of pink ice across its dreadfully naked haunches gave it away.
4) Picking up the Urplet after his Christmas afternoon nap and realizing that the sticky substance covering him, and now me, was a nap's worth of runny poop.
5) Finally getting a much-anticipated movie date with The Tall Doctor, while my family watched the kids, only to arrive at the theater and find everything we wanted to see sold out.
6) A sudden Rabbit refusal to wear clothes of any kind, ever,
7) or eat anything but soy milk. Which isn't even technically eating; it's drinking, so there.
8) The storms of Rabbit sorrow precipitated by the enforced donning of clothes, say to go out in twenty degree weather.
9) Navigating a small house in winter with five adults and two boys under three.
10) Cedar Rapids getting fogged in the day everyone was supposed to leave, so that my brother had to take a BUS to MOLINE to get a flight to CINCINNATI, to get another flight to Boston.
11) Also, so that my parents had to reschedule for a flight leaving at seven pm and dumping them in Boston at one am. Which is just uncivilized.
12) My brother removing the turkey from the oven only to find that there was a hole in the bottom of the pan. A hole from which grease streamed. Sad news for the new suede Christmas shoes.

The Twelve Highs of Christmas

1) Watching the Rabbit tuck himself under his Grandfather's arm and listen to hours of Beatrix Potter.
2) Watching the Rabbit unwrap one present at a time, then remove himself to his playroom to play with it quietly for half an hour or so before returning to unwrap another present.
3) The Urplet deciding, for reasons of his own, to sleep through the night three nights running.
4) Waking up to the Rabbit sitting beside me on the bed and gently patting my cheeks while whispering, "Sorry to wake you up, Mama."
5) Singing carols in a candlelit church. OK, so it was only for five minutes, before both boys melted down, but dammit, it was a GOOD five minutes.
6). Sitting down around the table the first night of my family's visit and realizing that a lot of the people I love in the world were right here, healthy, in the room with me.
7) NO CALL for either the Tall Doctor or myself. Two medical professionals, one of whom does ER work, one major holiday, four straight days off. Unbelievable.
8) A rockin' new canvas "guy bag" from Territory Ahead; it's now the coolest diaper bag in the IC
9) My brother's face when he opened the large, really rather nice silver piggy bank I gave him. Everyone wants a Capitalist Pig.
10) Lots and lots of pecan pie
11) with whipped cream
12) This moment right now, with the fire and the tree and the sleeping kids and the Tall Doctor perusing The Economist (subscription to which was a gift from my brother) and a little peace seeping into my particular corner of Earth.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The Koan Of The Minivan

I am kind of embarrassed about having left that last post up for ten days, because it looks like I'm sitting here basking like a whale in having finished the novel, when the actual truth is, I have been doing the holiday thang and have dropped into bed at the end of each day, looked at my computer, sighed, and turned it off without posting. And there's definitely a place for that sometimes; yes indeed, I am discovering that there is. The Tall Doctor says he seconds that, and since my mother reads this, I'll leave the rest to your imagination.

However, I have noticed over the past few days that I have been composing blog entries in my head nonstop, so it's obviously time to start up again, even though TTD and I did stay up until midnight last night wrapping presents. Oh, how we wrapped! We wrapped Thomas the Tank Engine videos and track. We wrapped books. We wrapped more books. We wrapped a mysterious water toy for the Urplet's bath. We wrapped sweaters and socks and all manner of random crayons and Play-Doh. By the end of the evening we had decided everything looked better wrapped, and we'd started on the mixing bowls, the china, and the cats. Those last were kind of resistant, though.

As was the minivan. Yes, it's hard to wrap a minivan, even if you just bought it and it's Christmas time. I am, you understand, referring to the gold Honda Odyssey we bought on Tuesday. And when I say bought, I mean we BOUGHT that sucker! We wandered onto the lot, just looking, and three hours later we drove out in it. Bye bye. It's ours.

Of course, all the way home, as I navigated from my nice, high perch, toasted my bottom on the heated seats, and drifted in the anonymity driving a minivan in Iowa bestows, I contemplated writing scathingly ironic blog entries about the poor minivan. I was going to trumpet my own chagrin: look, here I've given in and bought the ultimate American Mamamobile! I am Iowan! I have capitulated and will soon gain fifty pounds, grow out my hair, and begin wearing hemmed jean shorts, ankle socks, sneakers, and Tshirts with Christian slogans (I can say that because I AM Christian, but the day you catch me in a Tshirt that proclaims same is the day you call for the nice men in the white coats)!

In short, I wanted to blog away the subtext of the minivan, just to make sure that I was aware of the subtext, and that everyone was aware of my awareness. And that's not such a bad goal. Any time I conform to a stereotype, I should have a reason; when I buy something as symbol-hobbled as a minivan, I should know what I'm symbolizing.

And I should also know enough to know when to let it go. OK, so the minivan stands for conformity, homogeneity, James Dobson, soccer, mindless consumerism (no, wait, that's SUVs), suburbia, and Kierkegaardian despair. [Oh, you laugh? Isn't it the Big K who said that to be in despair is not to know you're in despair? And TS Eliot who talked about the people searching to be, "Distracted from distraction by distraction,"?] OK, so the minivan is a cliche. OK, so I look the part anyway, which makes it worse.

But the thing is, so what? We need the space, the price was right, I have to commute sixty miles round trip to work in the snow in the wee hours of the morning so need the Subaru for that, we want to be able to take the kids on longer trips, we refuse the SUV, ergo, minivan. I can fuss and ironize all I want, but you know? I think I'll spend my energy elsewhere. Instead of wasting time bemoaning my cliched status, I think I'll regard my minivan as my own personal sound of one hand clapping, my own private meditation maze. Its very complacency will have to keep me from becoming complacent. The minivan as instrument of spiritual mortification? Why the hell not.

Plus, it has a Rear Entertainment System. Oh stop laughing; it means it has a DVD player the kids can watch in the back.

I can still hear you laughing. Cut it out. I don't want to have to come back there.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

If Genius Is 90% Perspiration, I've Got It Made

I turned in the fifth draft of my novel to my agent today. Yes, you read that right: five drafts. Five drafts, four years. You can actually deduce a great deal about me from this fact, namely:

1) I am a slow learner
2) I am dogged
3) I am prolix
4) As--was it Flannery?--said, "I don't know what I think until I see what I write."
5) I have a very, very patient and encouraging agent
6) who is also a very, very good editor
7) I am the lucky recipient of a Tall Doctor Working His Ass Off At The Hospital Fellowship
8) I have a flexible, reliable, all-around-wonderful babysitter
9) whose presence allows me to write exactly nine hours a week
10) I really, really like to write

Monday, December 12, 2005

Duck, Or Else The Flying Junk Orbiting In My Head Will Hit You

We had playgroup at our house this morning, and the Rabbit was beside himself with joy at getting to race up and down the stairs playing "bad lions," whatever that is. He and the other kids were very clear on the game and how it was played, but despite continuous observation for two hours, we (the adults) never figured it out. Not that we were trying very hard. I mean, kids' imaginations are lovely and whimsical and I am all for them (I kind of have to be, what with the writing of fiction and all), but actually PLAYING imagination games with kids is boring as hell.

I saw Syriana last night and it is good, good, good. Go fork over however much one forks these days at multiplexes to see it if you get a chance. It's by the guy who wrote Traffic, but this time he's got oil companies in his sights: Texas oil barons, Pakistani immigrant workers in the Gulf, CIA operatives in Beirut, emirs lounging in Swiss hotel suites, Dept. of Justice lawyers...it's a web of such lethal reach and stickiness that Shelob would be proud to claim it. The settings are riveting, the acting terrific and understated, and the languages many and various. I was particularly struck by the Pakistani workers' Urdu, a lot of which--and this delighted me hugely--I could follow, because Hindi and Urdu sound the same, even though they're written differently. It was wild to realize I was understanding these guys, though of course I could only do it because there were subtitles and the characters were saying things like, "I like lamb stew." But I live in Iowa, so I'll take my linguistic thrills where I can get them.

I have a few Christmas presents left to buy and no idea what to get. Anybody have good book suggestions for guys who like nonfiction?

The Urplet can stand up on his own, and does so constantly. He works his way up either by clutching the nearest chair/toy/bookshelf/pantleg or by bending over and pushing himself off the ground with his hands, then stands, swaying and cackling and grinning, for minutes at a time. When he's particularly pleased, he turns his tongue sideways. He's even figures out how to let himself down to the ground by bending his knees slowly. Kid must have thigh muscles like iron, but you can't tell b/c his legs are of a most excellent and unparalleled squishiness.

The Rabbit loves to play with our creche, which The Tall Doctor and I bought in Ecuador and which has very few figures. The other day Rabbit named them for me: "That's Mary, that's Joseph, that's the baby Jesus lying in the straw, and that's Bob." "Bob?" I said. "Yes," Rabbit said firmly, pointing to the angel, "Bob."

Don't ask me, I have no idea.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Oh The Weather Outside Is Frightful

I have a theory about all the snow we've had in the IC thus far this year, and when you hear it I think you'll have to agree that it provides an oh-so-elegant solution to a meteorologic conundrum, namely: why did it snow more when we were kids than it does now we're adults?

I know I'm not the only person who remembers great drifts of pristine snow blowing across my childhood winters: snow pants, skiing, fathers cussing and shoveling and throwing their backs out. That hush which descends with snowfall (about which I'm tempted to rhapsodize, but I'm going to resist, because hello, James Joyce? The Dead? Who wants to compete with that?). The fluffy, icy taste of fresh flakes on the tongue. The knock of the radiator and the scrape of the snowplow at five am, announcing a glorious snow day. The bliss of peeling off wet socks and chilled long johns after a day of skiing, and holding frozen toes out to the fire. The excitement of Mom driving into the ditch.

But somehow as I grew older, the snow diminished. Sure, there was the occasional storm which shut down the East Coast and left everyone and her aunt sleeping on wadded-up jackets at Logan and JFK. Sure, there was enough ice to make driving a pain. But winter after winter went by with only one, maybe two real snowfalls. Instead, there were months of brown grass, freezing blue skies, and cars which wouldn't start. I got so used to it that I started to like it; snow began to seem egregious (except on the slopes), a driving hazard, something to be shoveled.

Now, this year, the snow is back, at least in Iowa City. We've had three big snows already, one of which is floating gently down right now and coating the tree branches most satisfactorily. We have a foot of fresh powder on the porch. (It's Iowa, remember? In Wyoming, they have it on the slopes; here, we have it on the lawn.) We have icicles of Snoopy-esque proportions dangling from the eaves. (Remember the Peanuts cartoon with Snoopy stuck in his doghouse, afraid to come out because an icicle was hanging like a guillotine blade over his door? He kept chanting, "I'm just gonna leap up and zoom right out of here. That's it; I'm gonna zoom right out of here.......I think I'll just lie here for the rest of my life." Which is how I feel every morning, but that's another post.) Last weekend we tugged the kids on a sled through a tree farm and selected a Christmas tree, then drove home through the snow feeling picturesque as all get out. This afternoon we're going to a wreath-making party. In short, the snow is INSPIRING, in a way it hasn't been since I was a kid.

Now, you understand that I mean inspiring in the abstract, of course; the actual details of getting two kids in and out of snow boots and suits and hats and mittens, and into car seats,and out of same, WITH one child potty-training, is grim as grim can be, and all I really want to do is snuggle up with a book and read in peace and watch the snow out the window, the hell with all this merrymaking. But still, the snow is here and white and beautiful and seasonal and deep and showing no signs of stopping.

And now for my meteorological discovery...it's snowing more because I have children, and one of them is old enough to notice. I mean, how's he going to make those memories of deep, splendid childhood snow without actual snow? He's gotta have it, so nature has kindly obliged. Now he can spend the rest of his life wondering why winter doesn't look quite like it did that year in Iowa when he turned three, because damn, this year it's looking classic.

Of course, there's the matter of the icicles making an ice dam which will shortly cause the roof to cave in, but still...

Monday, December 05, 2005

This Just Proves That Crafts Are Dangerous and A Bad Thing

On Saturday we had a bunch of friends over for the evening, and what can I say, the party got kind of out of hand and, well, I wound up with a black eye. I offer this as evidence that I am still a party animal, and that Iowa, mortgage, and offspring have in no way slowed me down.

Or I would so offer if it weren't for the fact that the offspring were responsible for the eye. It went like this:

As you probably know, if you host a party for a mix of adults and young children, you end up generating amazing chaos, and spending most of your time trying to fill wine glasses and organize hors d'oeuvres while signalling to your spouse that your youngest child really should get put down for bed RIGHT NOW and asking people if they've seen your oldest anywhere recently. I don't know about you, but I always end up feeling like I'm somehow ignoring both the guests and my kids, and that both ends of the equation must be wondering politely what the hell's going on and when are we going to eat? Still, I enjoy it (on occasion) and the offspring certainly thought it was the most exciting thing, like, ever.

Anyway, after supper, as the chaos simmered down to the relaxing-with-wine-and-picking-at-leftovers level (and the leftovers were amazing, especially the Timpano, and you know who you are, Ms. Chef!), I headed down to the basement to relieve The Tall Doctor, who was doing Rabbit Duty. That's another part of the party deal: you and spouse take turns watching the kids, so whoever's not watching can have a drink and five minutes of adult conversation. The Tall Doctor had done more than his share of child-minding, as is his wont, so I went off and found him talking to a friend, while said friend's eighteen month old son and the Rabbit ricoccheted off the furniture, the walls, the stairs, etc. I sat down, we all kept talking, and I failed to notice that the Rabbit had picked up a paper flower in a plastic pot (result of a craft project at the Children's Museum, which just goes to prove my point that crafts should be avoided at all costs, always) and begun swinging it around.

I failed to notice, that is, until the pot connected with my eyebrow. I mean, POW! WHANGO! SHAZAAM! WHACK-WHOOPTY-DOO! I doubled over, clutching my head. All crowded around and expressed concern. And when I picked up my head, it turned out that while the Rabbit hadn't succeeded in breaking the skin, he HAD managed to bust a little artery just beneath it, so that a goose-egg of epic proportions had blossomed in, literally, fifteen seconds. I mean, it was huge.

The Tall Doctor ran for ice, which I applied with good results. I sat around feeling sorry for myself with my friend, who is a hospital chaplain and a mother and therefore exactly who you want at such a time, and after a while I came upstairs and let everyone admire my egg. Did I mention it was huge?

I have to confess, though, that nothing much came of it. I was expecting five colors of bruise the next morning, but other than a soft lump, I got nuttin'. It seems a pity. I was hoping to go back to work at the ER sporting a serious shiner, and I was looking forward to lying about how I got it, but it seems it's not to be. And after I--or rather, the Rabbit--went to all that trouble!

Anyway, it was a great party.

Friday, December 02, 2005

I'm Not Sure What To Call This

I am at work, which is rather slow, which is good, because I am working on a stomach bug of some sort and prefer not to stand up. Sitting is good. Lying down is better. The nurses keep offering to give me an IV, but so far I am making out OK with flat Coke in a styrofoam cup; at least, I haven't yet given in to the urge to curl up like a limp shrimp beneath my desk.

Also, preceeding paragraph to the contrary, it's hard to work up a good case of the poor-me's in an ER. The last patient I saw was here for an emergency med refill because she just left her abusive husband and can't go back home for her pills. Her social worker from the shelter, who looked about twelve, was with her, and they were going to go to the drugstore after their ER visit, and then back to the shelter so she (the patient, not the social worker) could sleep. She said she couldn't think what else to do, and the social worker and I agreed, loudly, that sleep was a good idea. She said she was going to have to start all over from scratch, that she had nothing. She said when she was last in the ER she'd had an injury she told the doctor was from falling down the stairs, but that in fact her husband had been the cause. She said she was upset and felt guilty that she'd lied to the doctor.

I told her that the doctor would have understood, that I understood, that ER staff encounters these kinds of problems on an unfortunate daily basis and that no-one, me included, would blame her for either the injury or her presentation of it to the doctor. I filled her scripts and sat on my little rolling stool for a while, listening to her, and then shepherded her out with the social worker. I could hear her tearfully telling her story again to the receptionist outside the ER. That's supposed to be one of the markers for PTSD: obsessively reliving the traumatic experience over and over.

I just looked over at my computer where the patients are listed and saw another one: a child in for "possible abuse."

Now it's a little later. There's been a code--a lady came in with back pain which turned out to be an abdominal aortic aneurysm, which ruptured while she was on the way to CT. There's been another bleed, this one in someone's head; he got transferred to the University. I saw a teenager, seven months pregnant, in because her drug-addicted mother beat her up. Her father's just gotten out of jail after twelve years--I didn't ask for what. She lives with her grandmother, who is debilitated and requires constant care. She hasn't lived with her mother since she was eight, when her mother walked out on her and her nine year old brother, leaving them to look after themselves for two weeks in a strange city. She says yes, she thinks it would be nice to have someone to talk to.

I don't have anything to say about all this, because anything I say will sound pompous and stupid. But I want to record it. Also I want to go home and watch the movie of the play "Wit," with Emma Thompson. I'm stammering away here, but "Wit" addresses everything I'm talking about with grace and elegance and urbanity. Plus, it's mordantly, relentlessly funny, in the way only a play about ovarian cancer and John Donne's Holy Sonnets can be.

Why is it that the more earnest I get, the shorter my sentences become?